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‘A Gift to Those who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling.’

Exhibition dates: 3 October - 15 November
Preveiw: Thursday 2 October 6:00 - 8:00pm

The exhibition 'A Gift to Those...' is the result of an exchange of two artists between the UK and Japan, undertaken to celebrate the 150th anniversary of formal links between the two countries. Tokyo-based artist Mio Shirai and London-based Erika Tan each spent the summer of 2008 in the other's country of residence, undertaking a journey of discovery to unpick what cultural connections exist between Japan and Britain, and what separates them. Shirai was resident with Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art and /sLab at Sunderland University; and Tan was resident with BankART1929 and the Toyko National Graduate School in Yokohama, creating new bodies of work, displayed here.

'A Gift to Those... ' takes its title from the life-story of one of the earliest known explorers, Ibn Battuta. In 1325 the Moroccan Battuta began exploring the limits of the known world, and spent 30 years travelling some 75,000 miles, gathering knowledge about cultures and countries other than his own. Battuta dictated the story of his travels to a fellow scholar, which took the title 'A Gift to Those...' and also known as simply 'The Journey'. The two artists here follow in his footsteps, creating works that combine observation with speculation about our ability to comprehend the world through travel, exploration, and cross-cultural comparison.

Mio Shirai's short films and installations draw upon traditional folklore and myths, and popular stories that we all learn as children. Her films retell these stories and myths for an adult audience, imbuing them with a sense of the uncanny and absurd - a feeling of being "out of step", in her own words. Shirai's new short film, 'Forever Afternoon', re-creates a section of Lewis Carroll's  'Alice's Adventures  in Wonderland'. 'Alice' is a story known worldwide and re-learned by each generation, but thoroughly Victorian and English, and indeed inspired in parts by the North-East of England. Shirai allows us to re-read 'Alice' in a new way, as a parable of how we experience and assimilate alien cultures and places. Here, Alice - played by Shirai - has to learn the rules of engagement of a strange yet familiar place, rules which are logical, and yet different to our own. The film was shot entirely in locations which Carroll knew and visited in the North East. Mio Shirai is a rising star in Tokyo's art world, having recently shown in the city's largest public gallery, the National Art Centre and having show extensively in New York.

Erika Tan's new works are presented under the collective heading 'Made in Japan'. The works explore the expectations that travellers bring; the iconic images associated with Japan; the different assumptions that Japanese culture is based upon; and the physical and psychological mechanisms that allow it to function. Her opening work, 'The Syntactical Impossibility of Approaching with a Pure Heart' is an array of reworked and new images of Mount Fuji - arguably the best-known pictorial symbol of Japan. The mountain has been the subject matter for Japanese landscape painters for centuries; it is also one of the most photographed sights in the country. Here, Tan creates an inventory of the different ways it has been portrayed, to ask whether we can see past others' representations of a place. Are we always tied to seeing the world through our predecessors' eyes, and to their prior perceptions? How far is it possible, moreover, to fully inhabit a worldview other than our own? Tan originally trained as an anthropologist, and her work asks what we can readily 'import' into our own experience from other cultures, what can be slowly assimilated, and what must remain alien.

'A Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling' is a /sLab project produced in partnership with Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, BankART 1929, and in association with P3 art and environment and The Graduate School of Film and New Media, Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music.


Image: Erika Tan, from 'Made in Japan': 'Ghost in the Machine', 2008      

Mio Shirai, from 'Forever Afternoon, 2008